What a joy shopping for insurance is! (Are you smelling the sarcasm here?) Few decisions you make as a consumer can have such a radical impact in your life, yet because it can be confusing or make us feel awkward few people pay it the attention it deserves. And though I could go on at length with advice about what coverages to get, what discounts are available, etc.., I would probably drone on for hours, bore you stiff and get typer’s cramp in the process. Instead, I will give you some highlights (aka: executive bullet points, aka: nifty things to know) to make you aware of some of the most easily avoided pitfalls.
Avoid “Chicken-With-Its-Head-Cut-Off” Syndrome: More simply put, don’t wait until the last minute to go shopping. Try to give yourself at least 2-4 weeks before your policy renews to gather information and make a decision. That way you avoid the easily avoidable pressure to just renew your current policy rather than go through all the effort of switching.
Get It Together, Man!: This just means take all of your insurance to one agent or company. Not only does this reduce the chance something important gets missed, it will probably save you money too with multi-policy discounts. Plus you get the added convenience of knowing just who to call with any questions.
How Low Can You Go?: Are you getting all the available discounts? Don’t just assume you are, ask your agent what discounts you are NOT getting that are available. You may learn of discounts that you qualify for but did not even know you were missing out on. (If you have a good agent, this shouldn’t happen but you might be surprised how often this happens with newer agents or inexperienced call center employees with ‘agentless’ companies.
Send OUT the Clowns: Rule of thumb, if an agency has a clown (whether actually dressed as one or not) waving an arrow promising $14 auto insurance, you don’t want to trust your financial security to that place. (Oh, by the way, I promise you that agency does not have a single client paying $14 each month for insurance.) And if you see print ad promising that kind of rate, you can lump them in with the arrow-waving bozos.
Bait and Switch, It’s Not Just for Suckers Anymore: This is too common nowadays. Sometimes it happens before you buy the policy, sometimes after. Unethical agents won’t disclose fees like billing fees or broker fees at the time of quote. Then when it comes time to actually buy the policy, the price changes even though no information changed. If that happens, get up and leave no matter what they say. If they tried something like that on you at the outset, who knows what they will pull when they actually have your money and your policy is on the books. Harder to defend against are agents who intentionally quote low, write the policy at the artificially low rate knowing that the company will correct the rate when the policy is issued. Most customers, when this happens may grumble but they pay the higher rate rather than go through all the trouble of switching again. Unethical salespeople know this, which is why they do it. The only defense against this is to insist on receiving a copy of the application at the point of sale. If it uses unrealistic information like ultra low annual miles, or fails to list all drivers or tickets/accidents, have it corrected right then and there. If the price goes up, walk away. Reputable agents will stand behind their quote as long as they were given accurate information from the client.
Get the License Number of that Truck: OK, maybe not a truck, but a salesperson. Be sure to get the name and license number of the person you are getting the quote from and then check that number against the Department of Insurance database. The license MUST come back to the person you talked to, not just the agency or company. Far too many agencies and companies use unlicensed people to do tasks that require a license, like quoting and writing policies. Even if it turns out the person is properly licensed, checking will show you how long the person has been licensed so you will know if you are trusting your financial security to someone who has very little experience. Far too many call center quoters couldn’t spell insurance a couple of months ago, now they are insurance “experts”.
Now that didn’t hurt so bad did it? It’s like anything, caveat emptor (which is latin for “buyer beware” aka: “hold onto your wallet with both hands”). Make sure the person you choose to represent your interests when it comes to insurance really has your interests at heart, knows what they are talking about and will be there to stand behind the promises they make.